Sanctuary cities create a safer society

Sanctuary cities provide legal protection to immigrants, and also act to increase transparency. | Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/user: MB298


Political talk on immigration has obscured the meaning of the term sanctuary city. A sanctuary city doesn’t have to be a city; it can be a city, a county, or even a state. It is an area wherein the local government limits how much help it offers to federal immigration enforcement officials and agencies. This includes the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

Sanctuary cities have been portrayed in a negative light under former president Obama and President Trump.

The latter, however, has called for an all-out attack on these cities. Despite the negative connotation attributed to the term, sanctuary cities are not a hole in immigration policy, but rather are a legal, realistic mechanism to allow entry for non-violent undocumented immigrants while creating a safer society.

Immigrants aren’t a threat

A primary concern about sanctuary cities is that they pose a safety risk by allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the country. This false claim insinuates that immigrants are more of a threat than the average citizen. The demonization of immigrants as dangerous has been one of the focal points of the president’s attacks on sanctuary cities.

In reality, immigrants pose less of a threat than native-born U.S. citizens. In a 2015 study by the American Immigration Council, a non-profit and non-partisan organization, the results showed that higher immigration is associated with lower crime rates, and immigrants are less likely to commit crimes and be incarcerated than native-born citizens. 

In spite of this finding, President Trump signed into law Executive Order 13768, which threatens sanctuary jurisdictions by withholding federal grants to cities.

This move was a step toward better fulfilling a longstanding campaign promise to round up and deport large numbers of undocumented immigrants. Since then, a federal judge has blocked this executive order as an overreach of executive power, but this hasn’t stopped Trump from stoking unjustified fear in the public.

Most recently, Trump attacked a Pennsylvania senator on his view of sanctuary cities. “Bob Casey (D.) voted in favor of deadly sanctuary cities that released thousands upon thousands of illegal alien criminals and vicious gang members to prey on Pennsylvania streets, to prey all over this country,” Trump said. 

This number is false according to multiple sources, including Politifact, and is representative of the kind of patently false fear-inciting rhetoric Trump has used to scare the public. 

Not only is the number Trump cited in this argument false, so is his idea regarding the release of gang members and violent criminals. Sanctuary cities do not mean cities that don’t practice deportation.

A misconception about sanctuary cities is that they will not prosecute or deport any undocumented immigrant regardless of background, but this is not true.

Those who are arrested for a non-criminal offense are not subject to being held for ICE via what is known as a detainer request in sanctuary cities. Violent criminals or those who have repeatedly been deported and have returned, however, are routinely referred to ICE for further action.

Those in favor of eliminating sanctuary cities argue that their presence is unlawful and they violate the law by not following federal policy. The problem with this argument is twofold. Not only are sanctuary cities completely legal and protected under the Tenth Amendment, but they also offer protection under the law to undocumented immigrants where protection is due.

Being undocumented in the United States is a civil offense, not a criminal one. Undocumented immigrants are still entitled to constitutional rights, including the right to due process. This means that detaining an undocumented immigrant beyond what is legally required in order for ICE to investigate is unconstitutional. This has been upheld in several court cases, including in Florida and Oregon.

Sanctuary cities are mutually beneficial, creating safer cities by bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. In the United States, there are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants. In 2017, ICE performed 226, 119 deportations on undocumented immigrants.

The United States should focus on how to make the country a safer place for immigrants by pushing for greater social and economic cohesion that benefits all U.S. residents, instead of trying to force out individuals that President Trump falsely think provide a clear and present threat.

According to a study conducted by UC San Diego, sanctuary counties experienced approximately 35.5 fewer crimes per 10,000 people versus non-sanctuary counties and boasted stronger economies.

The reason for this difference is surmised to be caused by immigrants in non-sanctuary cities being dramatically less likely to report crimes, act as witnesses and work with local law enforcement if they think their status in the country is at jeopardy.

Despite what the current political climate suggests, fear is not an immigration policy. The hallmark of any good immigration policy is recognizing that undocumented immigrants will be present in any given country. Instead, the focus should be on maximizing safety through better screening, asylum requests and a path to citizenship when possible.

The country’s immigration policy should be led by level-headed realism, not stories of caravans and MS-13 gang members. A complete purge of undocumented immigrants would endanger all citizens by alienating peaceful immigrants from society and violating the rights guaranteed to them in the Constitution.

Sanctuary cities like San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles and many others provide reasonable legal accommodations to undocumented immigrants while also allowing the country to exercise its ability to enforce immigration policy. Let them be. 

Opinion columnist Ryan Nowrouzi is a biomedical sciences junior and can be reached at [email protected].


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